In his Sack Lunch series, Jon Ledyard looks at a particularly impressive pass-rushing performance from the past weekend’s games, highlighting techniques, moves, or athletic traits that brought each player success. In this installment, Jon looks at the traits and technique that led to outside linebacker and edge rusher Jeremiah Attaochu’s impressive sack of Drew Brees.
Any football conversation about the best pass rushers in the NFL typically centers around the AFC West, where edge defenders like Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Justin Houston and Khalil Mack represent the league’s elite. However, the San Diego Chargers special tandem of pass rushers are often lost in the shuffle, despite the fact that most teams in the NFL would kill for a duo like Melvin Ingram and Jeremiah Attaochu. I’ve written extensively about Ingram in the past, but it was Attaochu who caught my eye on Sunday, earning an impressive sack of Drew Brees thanks to his elite bend around the edge.
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Facing a 3rd-and-13 from his own 33-yard line, Drew Brees goes to work from the shotgun, and the Chargers attempt to confuse him with plenty of pre-snap movement along the defensive front. The one player who doesn’t budge is Attaochu, as the pass rusher remains coiled up in a four-point stance throughout the play clock.
It is unusual for an edge pass rusher to assume a four-point stance on an obvious passing down, but this may be a position that is simply preferential to the player. Attaochu has experience getting off the ball quickly from a four-point stance, hearkening back to his days at Georgia Tech, where he often operated from a frog stance on passing downs. His explosion off the ball here sends New Orleans Saints right tackle Zach Strief into a hasty kick slide to cover the edge.
Attaochu’s first step is good, but the defender needs to create more separation to the edge against the veteran Strief, so he uses a quick inside-outside jab step to evade Strief’s punch and gain a step advantage up the arc. As you can see in the image below, Strief’s punch lands on air due to Attaochu keeping his shoulders square up the field. This allows the edge rusher to clear the tackle’s hands almost untouched, continuing his path up the arc unabated.
Strief makes an excellent recovery, however, latching onto Attaochu’s hip and attempting to run the pass rusher up the arc. Sensing the pressure coming, Drew Brees quickly steps up in the pocket as well, doing what a quarterback should do to help out his offensive tackle.
Despite the stellar recovery by his opponent, Attaochu is not to be denied. Brees movement has made the angle to the quarterback an almost impossible one to cut, unless your lower half is not of bones and muscle, but of pure elasticity.
Thanks to natural bend and flexibility that is almost beyond belief, Attaochu turns a tight corner to Brees and latches onto the quarterback despite his body being almost parallel to the ground. Attaochu’s ridiculous display of flexibility to finish the sack highlights the strengths that can make him such a dangerous pass rusher if he continues to develop.
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Attaochu began to blossom last year for San Diego, notching six sacks despite playing only 66 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. That percentage has actually dropped this season to about 41 percent, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by Attaochu’s play. Why San Diego has chosen to utilize their personnel in such a fashion is beyond me, but the lack of playing time hasn’t deterred Attaochu from being productive. The third-year outside linebacker has two sacks in four games, and has been effective in his role as a situational pass rusher. If he can continue to incorporate better hand usage into his game, Attaochu’s quick feet and unique athleticism are the requisite baseline for a potentially elite edge rusher. Other aspects of his game still need attention, but Attaochu has the traits necessary to become as feared a pass rusher as Ingram if given more coaching and opportunity down the road.
Follow Jon on Twitter @LedyardNFLDraft. Check out his articles on Todd Bowles and twist stunts, and DeMarcus Ware’s resurgence with Denver.
All video courtesy of NFL Game Pass.